Almost a decade ago I had the pleasure of meeting and first working with Olivier Serrat from the Asian Development Bank. We worked together on a range of initiatives for ADB including developing a series of courses on learning in organisations. During that time Olivier wrote nearly 100 short and readable papers on issues related to organisational learning, knowledge management and leadership. In 2010 he brought these together in a single volume and it has been a constant and valued companion to me in my work. More recently, Olivier has added to the already comprehensive list of topics he had covered in his original publication and has now published a new collection of 126 of his articles in e-book form. Knowledge Solutions comprises an encyclopaedic resource on learning in organisations and is a significant contribution to the field. In an extremely welcome gesture of generosity his publisher – Springer – has made all of this content available Open Access which means we can download all the chapters free. You can browse through this cornucopia of materials here.
This year, 2015, Framework (the consultancy collective I work in) celebrates its 3oth birthday. As well as being a time for celebration, an anniversary is also a good time for reflection. I have been a member of Framework for 15 of its 30 years and during that time I have worked with dozens of organisations. Many of those organisations have asked me to work with them on issues related to organisational learning and knowledge management.
Last week I was asked by Save the Children UK to give a brief presentation to around 70 of their advisers on the subject of ‘Becoming a Learning Department’. The time was short so it was difficult to know what to cover. Preparing the talk really made me think about what I could say that would be of practical use and wasn’t simply a few sweeping generalisations. To try to make it relevant I focused part of my presentation on how learning relates to Save the Children’s theory of change. I also introduced the ideas of planned and emergent learning and motive, means and opportunity from my INTRAC paper Organisational Learning in NGOs: Creating the Motive, Means and Opportunity.
After the morning’s event with Save the Children I walked along Euston Road to visit one of my favourite places in London – the Wellcome Collection. It has a great cafe and bookshop and over coffee I was thinking about my experience earlier that day. It is some time since I wrote the MMO paper, and the discussions following my presentation prompted me to reflect on some of the nuggets I have learned over the past few years about learning in organisations. In his book, Better: A surgeon’s notes on performance, Atul Gawande writes about how he makes five suggestions to his medical students. The fourth suggestion is “Write something … You should not underestimate the power of the act of writing itself …Even the angriest rant forces the writer to achieve a degree of thoughtfulness.” Whilst I was browsing in the Wellcome bookshop after my coffee, I came across Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things I Learned at Architecture School. At an early age I hoped one day to become an architect and I love books that encourage visual thinking so I quickly became absorbed. I could see how the format – a graphic and a few sentences or paragraphs of accompanying text – was liberating for the writer – no need to develop a well-argued narrative structure, just get the ideas out! I decided right then to try writing my own version – exploring learning in orgnisations. Later, in a conversation with a colleague, the challenge of coming up with 101 things seemed very daunting but maybe I could manage 30 – one for each of Framework’s 30 years.
So I have set myself the challenge over the coming weeks in 2015 to write about 30 things I have learned concerning the reality of learning in organisations. Most will be ideas that have emerged from my experience of working with thoughtful and dynamic individuals in the organisations with which I have consulted. Others may be new perspectives on topics I have written about before, that seem to have stood the test of time. Some I hope to be able to illustrate – using the format of the 101 Things series. All will focus on the demands and realities of organisational learning in the real world … and there may even be the occasional rant. I’m about to start writing the first one now.
The illustration in this post is by Tamsin Haggis. You can find more of her wonderful work at http://tamsinhaggis.blogspot.co.uk